"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Friday, August 22, 2008

Under Lock and Key

So, on the way home from work last night at about 11:30pm, I stopped at the grocery store to grab a couple of things. After putting a gallon of milk and some Bagel Bites into my shopping basket, I remembered that the fiancé and I were out of condoms, so I headed over to the pharmacy section to grab a box. I had bought them from this particular Kroger plenty of times, but when I got to the aisle, I saw that they had put all of the condoms (as well as the home pregnancy tests) behind a locked glass case, and there was a sign telling customers to find an associate for help obtaining items in the case.

Annoyed, I sighed and went to the nearby chashier at the self checkout and told him I needed an item from the locked case in the pharmacy section.

He looked up at me sluggishly. "Oh, the condom box?"

I nodded.

"Ruth!" he yelled after much older cashier who was walking away. "She needs something from the condom box!"

This Ruth apparently didn't hear very well. She turned around and came back toward us, asking, "What?!" to which the first cashier repeated himself, "The condom box! This lady needs something out of the condom box!"

I stood there, rather amused, as Ruth took the little key from the first cashier and proceeded to try to use it to open a drawer at the register.

The first cashier, getting impatient, quasi-yelled this time, "No. The condom box!" And I tried to help by adding and pointing, "It's over in the pharmacy section."

Finally understanding, Ruth had me follow her over to the glass case, and before opening it, she said, "Now what was it that you needed?"

I pointed at the box behind the glass. "These."

"Okay," she said, and slooooowly opened the case to pull out the box of Trojans with spermicidal lubricant.

Noticing that they were on sale for, like, 3 dollars cheaper than usual, I asked her to go ahead and give me two boxes.

"Really?" she asked, really looking up at me for the first time. And then she added, "Wow."

WTF, right? She really said that! I imagined she was either totally judging me for being slutty or totally jealous of my apparent sex life. It wasn't as bad as the time the cashier at CVS asked me if the UTI medicine and Vagisil I was buying were for me and then proceeded to remind me how important it is to take care of my urinary tract, but I was still surprised this lady had the nerve to make a comment.

Rather than just giving the condoms to me, I had to follow her to the register with them and proceed to check out.

Now, even though I think the whole ordeal ended up being rather amusing, I have to admit that I was pretty pissed that the condoms were in a locked case in the first place. Not because I'm the type of person who is too embarrassed to ask for help in getting them, but because I hate it when something as important as contracepion is hard for people to obtain. I'm sure the condoms and pregnancy tests were locked up for a practical purpose like theft-prevention, but the way I see it, instances of theft of those particular items is likely high due to the shame associated with purchasing them. And by making it necessary to ask an associate for help, stores only increase customers' fear of shame or embarrassent. Even though I considered my particular encounter with the store-workers to be sort of funny, I can't help thinking that if I had been a scared teenager trying to buy condoms for the first time or if I had been an even more scared teenager hoping to buy a pregnancy test as discreetly as possible, the experience would have had the potential to be completely mortifying. If I had actually been concerned about being judged for my purchase, I easily might have backed out and would have either gone somewhere else, or worse -- gone without.

And that makes me mad. Kids already have such a hard time getting accurate information about contraception, and now we keep condoms under lock and key so that they have no way to protect themselves?

Theft-protection or not, I think that's pretty unfair.

By the way, if you want some help picturing the story as it happened, Ruth the cashier looked almost exactly like the second lady in this commercial:

That's right. The one who says, "I had no idea my gold jewelry was worth so much money," in the most unexcited voice possible. The fiancé and I definitely had a good laugh about that when I got home last night.


Anonymous said...

Encounters like this are exactly why I have decided that when the time comes I will provide condoms for my sons. I would rather them have safe sex than risk it because of embarrassment.

Tracey said...

Exactly! Even though I wasn't having sex yet at that point, I remember how impossible it seemed to be able to get condoms before college. And once I got to college, I was so amazed that my dorm my sophomore year had a bowl of free ones in the lobby. And no, I don't think that bowl of free condoms encouraged anyone to have sex the way conservatives always worry that they do, but it was nice to know they were there just in case.

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